- Associated Press - Sunday, August 28, 2016

COLUMBUS, Miss. (AP) - Firefighting is different now than it used to be.

Todd Graham, a 19-year veteran with Columbus Fire and Rescue whose firefighting career stretches back to 1994, says firefighters today have much more responsibility than when he was starting in the field. Most notably, he said, fire service isn’t just about putting out fires.

“It’s not just learning a fire skill anymore,” he said. “Now you have to be EMT (emergency medical technician) certified. There are different disciplines. There’s a lot of diversity of calls you go to now, from a stumped toe to getting somebody off of a tower.”

Four new firefighters will soon join CFR’s ranks, after the city council gave the department approval to offer jobs to five prospects. Fire Chief Martin Andrews said four of the five prospects accepted CFR’s offer, while the other had already accepted another job opportunity.

With the new additions, Andrews said 70 of CFR’s budgeted 73 staff positions will be filled. He said the department has 69 firefighters and one administrative assistant. CFR is actively recruiting to fill its remaining vacancies.



Hiring a new firefighter is a slow process. Andrews said it can take four to six months to allow for physical tests, a written test, background checks, interviews and finally seeking permission from the council.

Andrews said the new firefighters will be stepping into a world that’s changed greatly since he began 29 years ago.

He said firefighters today are better trained and use better equipment, rather than being “smoke eaters” like in his early career.

“We were basically looking at fighting fire and getting in there and putting the fire out — not necessarily extinguishing the fire in a way that would be beneficial to the occupants,” Andrews said. “A lot of the time, firefighting now is a science, and what I mean by that is we have to be careful on not just over-spraying water because of insurance companies not wanting to pay for excessive damage.

“We’re more educated now than we were back then,” he added. “Education is a big factor. If you’re coming into the fire service and don’t have any type of certification, you have to get that certification to stay here.”

Andrews said CFR sends new firefighters to the Mississippi Fire Academy during their first year in the department. They also have to take EMT training at East Mississippi Community College’s Mayhew campus so they can help with medical calls.

Being a rookie

Murphy Buckner, a 22-year-old firefighter who joined CFR in February, is still learning the ropes. He said CFR is working to set a date for him to go to the Fire Academy. For now, he’s limited in what he can do on-scene at a fire, but he still helps in support roles such as hooking up lines for water or carrying hose as needed.

“I’ve been to two house fires,” he said. “One was only the kitchen and the other had two bedrooms on fire. It was good to see the chain of command work. It was good to see these seasoned guys who know what they’re doing get off the trucks and step to it. It’s like a well-oiled machine.”

Shifting workload

For CFR as a whole, the workload has shifted dramatically since the department earned national accreditation in March 2013. The department is the only one in Mississippi with the accreditation.

Andrews said CFR averaged about 2,400 calls a year before 2013. Last year, the department responded to 6,108 calls.

CFR is required to answer all medical calls since gaining accreditation, Andrews said. That’s also an example of how the firefighting landscape has changed since Andrews started firefighting.

Eighty-six percent of CFR’s calls are medical, Andrews said, while only 10 percent are fire-related. The remaining four percent are for miscellaneous calls.

Graham said CFR’s makeup, in terms of experience, has changed in recent years. He said a big group of firefighters who came in around the same time 25 years ago has moved on from the department to retire within the last five years. As they’ve left, younger firefighters have come. The department is younger now than it was, and more firefighters have less than five years of experience.

Andrews said he sees it as a chance to bring up the next generation for CFR.

“When a person has worked their time that they need to work and are able to retire, that’s a great feeling,” he said. “But ever since 1840, people have been coming and going into this fire department. I look at this trend as an opportunity to train and mold the fire department into what we want it to be to better serve this community.”

For Buckner, the chance to join CFR was an opportunity to join a team, and to serve others.

“I like to be part of a team,” he said. “That’s a big deal to me and I like the opportunity to be able to help people and serve the community. That’s a big thing to me and it’s something you get to do here.”

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Information from: The Commercial Dispatch, https://www.cdispatch.com

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